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Jordanians protest Israeli gas deal

Jordanians continue to oppose the natural gas deal struck with Israel, arguing that it threatens the country’s economic and political independence.
Jordanian protesters take part in a march against a government agreement to import natural gas from Israel, in Amman March 6, 2015. The red placards read "The enemy's gas is occupation".  REUTERS/Majd Jaber (JORDAN - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS) - RTR4SBDC

A day after commemorating the 69th anniversary of Jordan’s independence, some 30 Jordanians gathered at the entrance of the House of Representatives May 26 to protest the government’s agreement to import natural gas from Israel. They held signs and hoisted pins bearing such slogans as “The enemy’s gas is occupation,” “We refuse to give up sovereignty over our energy” and the like. It was clear that opposition to the $15 billion deal will not diminish with time. According to the protesters, the agreement represents a moral hazard as well as a threat to Jordanian sovereignty.

Braving 97 F (36 C) weather, the protesters arrived outside the legislature at 1 p.m. The crowd largely consisted of members of the Jordanian National Campaign Against the Gas Agreement with the Zionist Entity (Israel). The campaign is an umbrella coalition of 27 organizations, which, according to campaign coordinator Hisham Bustani, includes “political parties, professional associations, retired veterans and [pro-reform] Herak movements.” As was the case with previous protests against the deal, organizers spread the word in part through social media, with a Facebook event and tweets using the hashtag “The enemy’s gas is occupation” (in Arabic).

Holding the event the day after Independence Day was purposeful, as the issues of economic and political independence were often raised by the protesters. “We think this deal is a huge danger to Jordanian sovereignty and independence,” Bustani told Al-Monitor. “This protest is actually part of our Independence Day activities.”

According to the campaign, being dependent on Israel for energy constitutes a threat to Jordanian sovereignty. “Economic independence is the source of political independence,” said Hala Deeb of the Jordanian Women’s Union, which is part of the campaign. According to Deeb, “[The deal] puts this source in the enemy’s hand.”

The choice of location reflected the campaign’s desire to be heard by the government. In fact, a number of members of parliament support the campaign. Bustani said, “We are in front of the parliament because parliamentarians have supported this campaign. They voted against the deal.” One banner asked, “The deputies refuse, but the government goes along?”

The protesters voiced concerns about the potential use of the money earned by the Israeli government to further the occupation. “Israel is still killing Palestinians and taking their land post-Oslo Accord,” said Rajeb Jabara, a member of the campaign. Bustani had no doubt that the profits the Israeli government makes from the deal will be used toward this purpose, stating, “Billions will be paid to an Israeli government that has historically been hostile, waging wars on its neighbors and until now occupying land, attacking Gaza, the West Bank and so on … We think it’s preposterous this money will be used for these uses.”

The protesters were particularly concerned about the payments going specifically to and gas coming from Israel’s current government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The latest elections show the Israeli people don’t want peace. They want a Zionist, racist government,” Jabara said. Bustani remarked, “This current, very right-wing government is pro-aggression, pro-occupation, pro-settlements.” 

The attendees argued that Jordan has more options for obtaining the energy it needs. “There is a lot [of gas] in Qatar, Egypt, all over the world, so not from our enemy,” said Abu Yamen Breim, who attended the gathering. The protesters pointed to domestic energy sources as well. “There are a lot of alternatives, like solar energy,” Deeb said, also noting European and Arab states as possible options. Bustani agreed with Deeb's line of thinking, stating, “There is a huge variety of alternatives, starting with local energy sources and renewable energy.” He also said the Gulf of Aqaba, Iraq and Algeria, among other places could be tapped for their energy.

The mood among the protesters was not particularly hopeful, but they are determined to continue their campaign. “I’m not optimistic, but we will do our best,” Deeb said. Meanwhile, Jabara clinged to the possibility that the plethora of alternatives might ultimately lead to scrapping the deal. Bustani summed up the situation as follows: “We know that the Jordanian government, in general, does not care about public opinion or even parliamentary opinion … But this will not stop us from our efforts to cancel this deal.”

The current deal is a preliminary agreement between the Jordanian National Electric Power Company (NEPCO), the Israeli government and the companies that own Leviathan, an Israeli oil field. Platform London, an organization concerned with social and ecologican justice, has published a report on the issue, “The Israel-Jordan Natural Gas Deal: Pumping Revenue Into Israel’s Coffers.” The report, written in coordination with the protest campaign, says that state-controlled NEPCO signed a letter of intent with Noble Energy, one of the field owners, in September 2014. The projected start date is 2020, and according to the report, the Israeli government will earn $8.4 billion for supplying gas for 15 years.

As expected, the government narrative differs from that of the protesters. "Gas from pipelines is cheaper than liquified natural gas or other fuels such as diesel," Hasan al-Heyari, the director of the Natural Gas Department at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, told Al-Monitor in explanation of the reasons behind NEPCO's decision. He also claimed that gas from pipelines, which would be used in the deal with Israel, "will reduce costs, are environmentally friendly and are easy to maintain regarding power plants." Heyari confirmed the status of the deal as well: "NEPCO signed a letter of intent with Noble Energy last September to provide electricity by the gas discovered in the Leviathan field. And now they are discussing the agreement ... We are in the process of finalizing the prices with Noble." Heyari also noted that this deal is far from the only one the government is pursuing. He cited negotiations with Iraq, Shell International and British Gas to this end.

If the agreement goes forward as planned, the economic benefit to Jordan would be a steady supply of gas, given Israel’s relative political stability and proximity. Politically, it appears that the further the operation progresses, the more unpopular it will become. A wide array of organizations and individuals oppose the deal. A much larger protest took place in March against the deal, with participants numbering in the hundreds. The unpopularity of the agreement has the possibility to fuel discontent with the government in general.

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